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Trumpism as a ‘lethal Lost Cause’

David W. Blight writes that Trump’s 2020 loss “has been transformed into a narrative of betrayal, resistance and a promise of political revitalization” — and therefore may endure.

President Donald Trump speaking during a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Leah Millis
Former President Donald Trump
I can’t quite recall why my wanderings around the web over the weekend led me to a brilliant New York Times op-ed that was first published in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot/rebellion/attempted overthrow of the election result at the U.S. Capitol. But it’s so smart, I wanted to pass it along anyway.

Written by David W. Blight, a Yale-based historian who has written extensively not only about the Civil War but about how the “Lost Cause” ideology of the Civil War has affected Southern culture ever since, the piece brings his insights from that work to the question of “How Trumpism May Endure,” which is the headline on his Times piece.

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The Confederate “Lost Cause,” rooted in the idea that the secession of Southern states in 1861 was rooted in noble motives, still has some power in the U.S. South. Blight’ warns, as the headline suggests, that Trumpism may retain some of its power for quite a while. I’ll just pass along a couple of his paragraphs and encourage you to click through and read Blight’s whole, very smart piece.

From the op-ed:

Trumpism has already become a lethal Lost Cause. It does not quite have martyrs and a cult of the fallen in which to root its hopes and dreams. But it does have a self-destructive cult leader about to leave power in a defeat that has been transformed into a narrative of betrayal, resistance and a promise of political revitalization.

The important Lost Causes in history have all been at heart compelling stories about noble defeats that were, with time, forged into political movements of renewal: the French after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the profound need for national revanche; Germany after the Great War and its “stab in the back” theory that led over the 1920s to the rise of the nationalism and racism of the Nazis; and the white South after our Civil War. All Lost Causes find their lifeblood in lies, big and small, lies born of beliefs in search of a history that can be forged into a story and mobilize masses of people to act politically, violently, and in the name of ideology.

David W. Blight
David W. Blight
The story demands a religious loyalty. It must be protected, reinforced, practiced in ritual and infused with symbols.What is the Trumpian claim of a stolen election but an elaborate fiction that fights to make the reality and truth of the unbelievers irrelevant. Some myths are benign as cultural markers; but others are rooted in big lies so strong as engines of resentment that they can fill parade grounds and endless political rallies, or motivate the storming of the U.S. Capitol in a quixotic attempt to overthrow an election.Mr. Trump’s Lost Cause takes its fuel from conspiratorial myths of all kinds, rehearsed for years on Trump media and social media platforms. Its guiding theories include: Christianity under duress and attack; large corrupt cities full of Black and brown people manipulated by liberal elites; Barack Obama as alien; a socialist movement determined to tax you into subservience to ‘big government’; liberal media out to crush family and conservative values; universities and schools teaching the young a history that hates America; resentment of nonwhite immigrants who threaten a particular national vision; and whatever hideous new version of a civil religion QAnon represents.

I don’t claim to know whether the transparent falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen from its rightful winner will spawn an important myth-based movement that will last long enough to compare in any way to the Confederate “Lost Cause.” But Blight is a lot better positioned to speculate on that possibility, so I commend his whole piece to you. It’s accessible through this link.